Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow 5:44 pm, 2nd May 2007

That message is right. If we look back at the history of Northern Ireland over the years, we could find some examples where we did not behave according to conventions, but it did not do us any good when that happened. That is the message that must be put across.

I have been labelled an LTTE supporter in the past, and been told that I was supporting terrorists. I am well aware of things that the organisation has done of which I do not approve. I am convinced, as I am sure are other hon. Members, that money is being raised in this country which goes to the LTTE. Whether or not the story about the petrol stations is true, I am sure that I am not the only person who has heard the stories of taxing, whereby people are more or less required to contribute money. That happens, and let us not be under any illusion or pretend that it does not. The bottom line, however, is that there will be no settlement and solution unless the LTTE is involved in developing them and in the negotiations. The Tamil politicians in Sri Lanka, and the Members of Parliament who are members of the Tamil National Alliance, which I know is sometimes described as an LTTE proxy, but comprises elected Members of Parliament, will say exactly that—that the LTTE is the body that represents the view of the majority of Tamils.

There has been long-standing evidence of the disregard for human rights in Sri Lanka to which my hon. Friend Stephen Pound drew attention, and the failure to live up to basic human rights standards. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whom my hon. Friend Mr. Khan quoted, has made the same point. The commission that has been established to look into extra-judicial killings and disappearances is welcome, but concerns have been expressed that there are shortcomings in the national legal system that could hamper the commission's effectiveness. Previous commissions have made recommendations, but they have not been put into effect. The commission should be looking not only at individual responsibilities for acts that may be regarded as crimes, but at the broader patterns and the context in which such acts occur. It is no good merely looking at the individual case if nothing then happens to change the overall context.

The overall context at the moment is extremely worrying. There is no question but that there has been very serious deterioration in the situation over the past year or so. Relief organisations are expressing concern, and the Red Cross has recently told us that there are up to 120,000 displaced civilians in the Batticaloa district. Just in the past week or two, more than 40,000 people have fled their homes in that district. We have heard the claims about restrictions on humanitarian provision, as the A9 road has been closed, which is preventing essential medicines and humanitarian aid from getting through. Human Rights Watch and others have expressed concern that the Sri Lankan authorities are using threats and intimidation to compel civilians who fled recent fighting to return home when it is far from safe for them to do so. Those are not the actions that one would expect from a Government; one would not expect anybody to be forced to return home when they feel it is unsafe to do so.

As to what can be done, I understand perfectly well that we as a Government are not in a position to dictate solutions to the Governments of any other countries. The solution will be achieved in the end through negotiation and through the people of that country, the LTTE and its Government. I was interested to hear what my right hon. Friend Mr. Murphy and the Minister had to say about the initiatives that are being taken, in which we can export experience. It is also perfectly legitimate for us to express our opinions on the initiatives that are being suggested. I have read the recent reports about the devolution proposals unveiled by the Sri Lanka Freedom party. It seemed to me that the proposals were highly unlikely to lead to a solution. In fact, they will probably be regarded as a step backward, as they implied devolution of power at a very local level, rather than any significant devolution of power that would give any real autonomy to a region or province. The proposals seem a step backward in respect of some of the suggestions made a few years ago, and it would not be helpful to the peace process if they were pursued. It is not for me to say what the detail of any solution should be, but it will not last if it does not give a significant degree of autonomy to the north and east provinces—the parts of the country with very significant Tamil populations.

We must carry on with the initiatives that the Minister talked about in his opening remarks. We must offer our experience and support, but send a clear and consistent message to both sides—the Government and the LTTE—that there is not a military solution to this problem. I am worried about the attitude of the Sri Lankan military, who seem to think that they are on the way to crushing the LTTE and that just another push will do it. If that is their mindset, I am afraid that things will get far worse than they are now. That is the important message that we have to send.